Is Orioles' transition to 6-man rotation the right decision?

The Baltimore Orioles will utilize a six man rotation to try and keep the starters fresh
May 1, 2024; Baltimore, Maryland, USA;  Baltimore Orioles pitcher Corbin Burnes (39) throws a third
May 1, 2024; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Corbin Burnes (39) throws a third / Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

One thing the Baltimore Orioles have become known for this season is having an overflow of talent at pretty much every position, starting pitchers included. The original expected rotation was broken up before the season season when Kyle Bradish and John Means started on the IL. Both have returned to the rotation but there's still been inconsistency due to injury.

While this has been an issue for the Orioles rotation, the next man up has stepped in each time and helped the team to one of the best records in all of baseball. The starting rotation has been a strength of the team. Prior to the start of games on Saturday, the O's starters have a combined record of 17-9 with a 3.28 ERA, which is the fifth-best rotation ERA in baseball.

Prior to the game on May 18, the Birds have used eight different starters already this season due to absences at varying times. Corbin Burnes leads the team with nine and Dean Kremer has made eight starts. Cole Irvin, who's been the biggest surprise to the rotation this season, has made seven starts. Rodriguez has made six and Bradish, Means, Wells and Albert Suarez have all made three starts.

Fortunately GrayRod required only a short stint on the IL and has been activated while Wells' timetable is still undetermined. With Rodriguez returning and the current members of the rotation performing so well, the question of who will get bumped from the rotation was recently addressed by manager Brandon Hyde.

In an interview on May 17, Hyde stated, “We expect to go to a six-man probably here pretty soon with that long stretch coming up,” and “We feel great about adding a really good starter right now into our bullpen. It’s kind of a unique deal. But with Grayson coming off the IL, it’s just kind of where we are roster-wise.”

But is a six man rotation a good idea?

Pro: The biggest benefit of a six-man rotation is the rest, especially with the amount of arm injuries we see in pitchers today. The Orioles have entered a stretch where they will play 43 games in 45 days and will have just one off day in the entire month of June. An extra body in the starting rotation means fresher arms. Starters coming in with planned extra rest can throw more pitches, which should allow them to pitch deeper into games.

Con: An extra arm in the rotation means one fewer in the bullpen. Hyde loves to use his bullpen and will burn right through it to play the matchups. Having one less reliever available will put that much more stress on an already taxed bullpen.

Pro: The best pitchers will pitch. The Orioles bullpen has been great so far this season, but the starting rotation has been even better. Allowing Irvin to stay in a six-man rotation gives the six most effective pitchers the Orioles have, and the ability to have the biggest effect on each game they pitch in.

Con: Starting pitchers are creatures of habit and are accustomed to pitching in a five-man rotation. Burnes will still pitch as if he were in a five-man rotation, but Hyde will decide when to pitch everyone else, which could lead to a bit of a disorganized approach.

Pro: A six-man rotation has been effective before. The Houston Astros used one during the 2022 season and it helped them stay fresh. That rotation carried the Astros to a World Series win.

Con: The Orioles bullpen is not as young as it used to be. In the past, Hyde has used a virtual carousel of pitchers that he rotated between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk, but he can't do that anymore. The only pitchers in the Baltimore bullpen that still have an option to be sent down are Keegan Akin and Yennier Cano, and they are two of the best relievers the Orioles have. Neither is in danger of being sent down, so Hyde will not have the extra Triple-A arms available to him.

It does not appear that the Orioles have moved into a six-man rotation just yet. Irvin, who has pitched very well after getting an opportunity to being the season in the rotation, was the odd man out and was available from the bullpen in Friday's series opener against the Seattle Mariners. It is not yet known when Hyde will implement it, but it should be soon.

Fans thought the O's could have used a six-man rotation last season to rest some of their starters, but more pitchers in last year's bullpen had options. Players like Nick Vespi, Joey Krehbiel and DL Hall all were called to Baltimore and could be sent down at any time for a fresher arm. The Orioles bullpen does not have that luxury this season. Even though many thought the six-man rotation would have been a good idea last season, it's perhaps a bad one at this juncture.

There are fewer options in the bullpen for a manager that uses as many pitchers as he can every game, and the starters can continue to pitch on normal rest. Pairing Irvin with Suarez in the bullpen would give the O's two legitimate long men in the bullpen. Either of them could give the O's three innings or more in a game to allow the other bullpen pitchers some time to rest.

The Birds also have Chayce McDermott and Cade Povich, two of their top 10 prospects, in Triple-A, and either of them could be called up to make a spot start if the regular starters need an extra day. McDermott recently started his second combined no-hitter in as many seasons, and Povich has been one of the best pitchers in the minors leagues. Neither of them are currently on the 40-man roster, but room can be made be designating someone for assignment, like Kaleb Ort, who is not having a good season in Norfolk, and optioning a starter like Kremer just long enough to allow McDermott or Povich to make a start and reset the rotation. If they don't want the headache of all that moving around, Bruce Zimmerman can be called upon for a spot start.

Hyde is the defending AL Manager of the Year and is unquestionably a very good leader and decision maker, but his decision not to use the six-man rotation seemingly failed last season as the starters ran out of gas in the playoffs. This time around, his decision to use a six-man rotation with fewer available relievers in a six-week stretch of playing nearly every day seems just as questionable.